Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: The Forger, by Cioma Schonhaus

A story of survival in wartime Berlin

Schonhaus’ description of the horrible conditions that prevailed in wartime Berlin is quite good. In The Forger he provided this reader a sense of the place that was convincing. One can see that the author knows Berlin. However, it is a story that has been written many times over. The "Last Jews In Berlin," by Leonard Gross, comes to mind. Being presented in the first person increases the story’s poignancy. Schonhaus' characterization of himself is quite credible, and it must be assumed that the original German version must read well. Unfortunately, the English translation is not as good as it could be. Finally, Cioma's crossing the Suisse border was rendered as being much too easy. The reader gets the impression that the author was in a hurry to complete the story.

Capitalism and the need for a Revolution in Spirit

An article by Benjamin Barber titled A Revolution in Spirit, published in the weekly The Nation, caught my attention not only for being well written but because it touches an issue dear to my heart, one that impacted my life in my younger years. In his article, Barber talks about the need for a revolution in the spirit in its relationship to culture, democracy, and ultimately to life. This, in my post-World War II years, was what some called Humanitarism, a doctrine that puts the spirit—with its ideals of peace, equality, and good will toward all—first. It is something I’d like to call now social capitalism.

Much has been written about the spirit of America, the wonderful force that became a beacon of hope and a cause for envy in much of the world. A spirit that, to a large extent, evolved from the rugged individualism that characterized the beginnings of the American experience. A spirit that produced our brand of capitalism, a force that not only propelled our country to become the richest nation on earth, but also, in tandem with our democratic ideals, helped the less fortunate in the world to alleviate in some extent their pervasive poverty.

But as the collapse of our present economic system demonstrates, not all is well with capitalism. Having won the Cold War, that not so symbolic struggle between Capitalism and Communism, we emerged as the sole undisputed super power. With our victory came the arrogance of the victor. The American spirit became the American hubris, and with it we began to lose many of the values that had made us great.

And now, in comes Obama. Not only is he a novelty for being our first African American president. That by itself is a milestone in the American experience. But he is exceptional in that he brings to the White House a unique intellect that with few exceptions was absent in many of its prior occupants.

One can only hope that President Obama’s call for change will help us break our cold and ruthless attitude toward what is right and wrong in our society. We definitely need a revolution in spirit, a reawakening of the spirit that once made us great.

We Americans are afraid of socialism. Maybe understandably so. But reining in capitalism in its rudest, often inhuman forms, doesn’t constitute socialism. It simply means that the government is responsibly carrying out the regulatory and oversight functions it is entrusted to execute.

The issue at hand these days is not the death of capitalism. I’d like to say that the real issue is to strengthen and purify capitalism, and thus prevent it from destroying our Western civilization as we know it.

Capitalism without morality cannot endure.